May 18, 8:41 AM EDT

Applications for US unemployment benefits fell last week to 3-month low of 232,000


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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Fewer people sought U.S. unemployment benefits last week, a sign Americans are benefiting from solid job security.

THE NUMBERS: Applications for weekly unemployment aid fell 4,000 to 232,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's the lowest level in nearly three months. The four-week average, a less volatile figure, declined 2,750 to 240,750.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. They have been below 300,000, a historically low figure, for 115 weeks. That's the longest such streak since 1970.

The number of people receiving aid fell to 1.9 million, the lowest level since 1988. The figure has fallen 12 percent in the past year.

THE TAKEAWAY: The rock-bottom figures add to evidence that companies are holding onto workers and hiring at a steady pace. Americans are spending more, factories have cranked up output and home sales are strong, boosting the economy after it barely expanded in the first three months of the year.

KEY DRIVERS: Hiring has remained steady, despite the first quarter's slow growth. Employers added 211,000 jobs in April as the unemployment rate fell to a 10-year low of 4.4 percent. This year, the job gains have averaged 185,000 a month - the same pace as in 2016.

The economy grew by just 0.7 percent in the first three months of the year, but there are signs it will expand more quickly in the current quarter.

Industrial production - output from factories, mines and utilities - jumped 1 percent in April, the biggest gain in more than three years. And Americans spent more at restaurants and retail stores last month.

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